Defra to expand PCR testing for bovine TB

Defra is to expand the use of polymerase chain reaction testing for rapid detection of bovine TB infection in cattle herds following success in the first phase.

Following the success of the tests in an initial rollout, the Animal and Plant Agency (Apha) has confirmed the new test will be expanded to cover more tests in England, Scotland and Wales.

The validated polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can detect the M bovis bacterium responsible for TB directly from tissue samples collected at post-mortem inspection.

See also: Bovine TB in England at 15-year low, but what more can be done?

The new method reduces the time take it takes for Apha laboratories to report crucial results to livestock keepers from up to 22 weeks to just three weeks.

This means that in certain situations, if the PCR test results are negative, Apha can lift herd movement restrictions much sooner than the previous protocols allowed.

The PCR test will now be expanded for use in post-mortem tissue samples taken from cattle that have tested positive for bovine TB, direct contacts and privately or compulsory slaughtered or dead animals with a skin test result that is inconclusive.

Apha chief executive David Holdsworth said: “We know waiting for TB results can be a stressful time for farmers, so reducing the time for results to be delivered has been a key focus for Apha.

“This is a significant step for Apha, and we will continue to work tirelessly in the fight to eradicate this disease.”

Timely testing ‘essential’

The UK’s deputy chief vet Ele Brown said the initial rollout of the PCR test has shown a tenfold improvement in testing turnaround time.

“Timely and reliable testing is essential in halting the spread of this insidious disease in animals,” she added.

“I am pleased that its use will now be extended even further, ensuring that Apha can continue its vital role in detecting disease on farms, and give farmers earlier certainty of disease in their herd.”

Defra said bovine TB is “the most difficult and intractable animal health challenge” the country faces, costing taxpayers around £100m every year.